Fiasco’s Cymbeline is anything but

Review at Examiner

Review at Examiner

Review at Examiner

From a troupe that calls itself Fiasco Theater, you anticipate…

Dunno. Craziness, lunacy, generally bad stuff. The program guide accompanying FT’s production of “Cymbeline” at the Broad Stageexplains that the word “fiasco” first came into being to characterize “a commedia dell’Arte performance that went horribly (and hilariously) wrong.”

Even with six actors, music and an odd duck like “Cymbeline,” there’s little chance of this production turning into a free-for-all. Co-directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld and their company of Brown University alums are on the third year and third run of this production. You could let loose a truck full of wild ostriches into the Broad and the Fiasco players would likely figure out a way to meld them seamlessly into the action.

Bard in a trunk seems to be gaining popularity. As recently as last month, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre brought an equally economical and threadbare version of “Hamlet” into the Broad (From a producing perspective, you gotta love those lowered costs). Here again we have minimal to no sets (save for, yup, a big old multi-purpose trunk designed by Jacques Roy), costumes (by Whitney Locher) that hint at period but are closer to contemporary, musical instruments which all of the actors utilize and a general spirit of “Entertainment time. Right-o. We got this.”

They do. This staging of one of Shakespeare’s more peculiar and problematic romances could have upped the mayhem and the antics to befit the material. But no. Characters are suffering (luckless Imogen and feckless Postumus most significantly) and actors Jessie Austrian and Brody want to make sure we know it. So when her Imogen wakes up next to the decapitated body of who she thinks is her husband, Austrian’s bewildered and very agitated wail “Where is thy HEAD!!” is the cry of loss and desperation. Or when she asks her servant Pisanio (Paul L. Coffey) to go ahead and kill her, Austrian makes us see that, by God, that’s what she means.

But all is by no means somber. Doubling King Cymbeline and Imogen’s oafish suitor Cloten, Andy Grotelueschen gives a veritable comic clinic. With frizzed-our red hair and beard to match, Grotelueschen often gets a laugh simply by putting on a new article of clothing (hat or spectacles) or throwing a fourth-wall breaking “shut up!” to the audience. Cloten is a belly-scratching moron, but Grotelueschen also makes sure we know he’s also dangerous, and that’s a scary combination. On the royalty front, Grotelueschen’s Cymbeline conveys plenty of sternness. The way they’ve cut the text this time, King Cymbeline basically drops out of the play after the first act, only to reappear near the end to help tie things together.

Posthumus is also largely absent for much of the action while the attention turns to Imogen. Brody has some nice rapport – no homo-erotic vibes – with Steinfeld’s Iachimo. The men are shooting pool as Iachimo proposes the all-or-nothing wager that he can seduce Imogen. Steinfeld presents Iachimo as opportunist rather than villainous schemer, a guy with a serviceable plan B when the seduction doesn’t work out.

And of course it won’t work out. Austrian’s Imogen, tall-ish, redheaded, no-nonsense, is a toughie even if her love for Posthumus seems to occasionally cloud her judgment. There’s also a nice sight gag as Imogen steps out of her clothes to become the boy Fidele, and reveals herself to be fully prepared for boydom right under her dress.

Wearing his music director hat, Steinfeld (who doubles Ichimo and Cymbeline’s lost son Arviragus) has the company picking, strumming and plucking away on guitars, banjos, washboards and an upright bass. Emily Young as the banished courtier Belaria leads a wicked cool bluegrass number with Arviragus and Paul L. Coffey’s Guiderius. It’s part of the trio’s “mountain sport” and it opens the post-intermission with a snap.

At about two and a half hours, the production clocks in appropriately and how very smart it was to eliminate the entrance of the Jupiter and assorted apparitions. In truth, the Fiasco Theater needs no help from the divine. They’ve got it.

“Cymbeline” plays 2p.m. Sat.-Sun. 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through Dec. 23 at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St. Santa Monica. $49-$110, (310) 434 3200, www.thebroadstage.com.

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